A neighborhood battle against charter schools has just gained a powerful ally: local moms.
On Friday, April 13th, concerned parents attended the first meeting of community group Williamsburg and Greenpoint Parents for Our Public Schools (WAGPOPS) at the Church of the Ascension on Kent Street. While some came to learn more about the highly contentious issue, many were eager to explain why two charter schools seeking to locate in their district, Success Academy Williamsburg and Citizens of the World, are doing more harm than good.
The catalyst for the creation of WAGPOPS was Success Academy’s recent attempt to co-locate in M.S. 50. Although the Panel for Educational Policy approved the move last month, many in the predominantly Latino Southside, where M.S. 50 is located, remain opposed to it, maintaining that the Success Academy has made few attempts to engage Spanish-speakers. Williamsburg residents, including members of the Southside Community Schools Coalition, are suing to revoke the school’s charter application, claiming it contained no proof of having conducted community outreach. (Under New York law, schools must obtain “significant” community support to be granted a charter.) Proposals from Citizens of the World, which has one location in L.A., have not been accepted.
“I didn’t know what [the debate] was about at first,” said Lorna Feeney, who moved to East Williamsburg so her children could attend P.S. 132. “I started looking into it and was surprised that Success Academy was already slated to open in the neighborhood. Then I called [Councilmember] Diana Reyna’s office and found that they hadn’t been notified about the process either. There was no public outreach. So a bunch of us mothers banded together and now want to make WAGPOPS an official organization.”
WAGPOPS hopes to combat what they call a campaign of misinformation, by championing local public schools. Former District 14 Community Education Council member and current WAGPOP member Brooke Parker believes that community support for Success Academy and Citizens is largely a result of ignorance and naiveté. “That a small cohort of parents is supporting these schools, without knowing anything about our own, speaks volumes about the need to lift the profile of public education in our district,” she said. “Our schools have more experienced teachers and principals, and offer a more systematic approach to parent engagement. Our schools also test better than charters. P.S. 34 was named one of the best elementary schools by New York Magazine. We just want to make sure that people who shape the educational landscape will be informed.”
Parker’s concern about misinformation regarding neighborhood public schools extends to the discussion of space in the schools. “The Success Academy Williamsburg website states that ‘as the influx of families [into the neighborhood] continues, schools in the community are strained.’ That’s absurd. There’s plenty of room in our schools for students. In fact, to justify co-locating within public schools, they go on to write ‘several schools are severely under-utilized, with many, many excess seats,’ and that six buildings in the district are running under 60% capacity.”
Success Academy asserts that it has, in fact, made an effort to engage the community, including its Spanish-speakers. “Evidence of our outreach is clear in the overwhelming response we received from the district,” said Success Academy spokeswoman Kerri Lyon. “We’ve received 313 in district applications for approximately 170 seats, 37% of which were English language learners.”
Although WAGPOPS has focused primarily on letter-writing and developing its website, the group plans on becoming a fixed visual presence in the community. Members will make their voices heard at a proposal hearing for Citizens of the World at I.S. 71 on Thursday, April 19th. On May 5th, representatives will also spread the word about public schools at the Go Green Greenpoint! Earth Day Festival at McCarren Park.
In addition to reaching out to other parents, WAGPOPS is working with like-minded groups, such as the Southside Coalition, and with elected officials. “Councilmembers Levin and Reyna, Assemblyman Lentol and Representative Velazquez have all been unbelievably supportive,” said Parker. “And we’ve received a lot of help and encouragement from District Leader Lincoln Restler.”
Restler in turn has praised WAGPOPS as “a welcome addition to our neighborhood. They are parents who are working to ensure that our schools receive the support, recognition and the resources they need to thrive.”
For more information, visit www.williamsburggreenpointschools.org or write to firstname.lastname@example.org. WAGPOPS can also be followed on Facebook and Twitter.